According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Something to Think About - "Could Moses Write Hebrew?"




Introduction

From time to time I become confronted with the traditionalism of my past to the facts of the world as they actually are. Usually what I have held true is not true at all which then causes me to rethink how this new knowledge may help or hinder my previous perspectives of things I had considered true in my Christian faith.

As Christians, we face these events nearly every day, especially if we are absorbed in knowing more about something we find important to us, such as our faith. It is part of what it means to being "a student of the bible unwilling to be content with a "casual traditionalist" view of bible holding the mindset that what we once had learned in the past was true for all time. Many times this is not true. As example, simple mathematics can be learned but the more we study it the more complex it can become. So too with biblical doctrines, dogmas, and beliefs. It can be simple but it can also be vastly complex. And depending on the theorems and axioms you assume (or establish) so goes the entirety of the formula built upon. Great mathematicians became great because they were unwilling to be content with simple mathematics. And so may the disciples of God as they explore His wisdom, ways, and forms of being in this world.

Long years ago I had begun taking the view that what I was taught and believed true may change as I grew older, as the world grew older, and as academia grew older. For those of us trying to make sense out of the bible we each, in our own way, must adapt and change with every succeeding new year of discovery, knowledge and understanding. When we don't we become effectively "stuck in time" and find ourselves "defending our (sacred) positions" rather than asking how this new knowledge might aid us in our assessments, comportments, responses, and comprehensive apprehensions.


For the Christian - and especially for those like me who have grown up in the pious traditions of fundamentalism (and later, conservative evangelicalism) - I find myself nearly daily confronted with my past. I am haunted by it. It lingers upon me and can weigh me down but for the Spirit of God who delivers, protects, and urges me forward. My choices is whether I should reject new things which come to light, or take them in, reconsidering how this new knowledge might broaden my faith, my idea of God, and witness of His Word. In a large part, Relevancy22 is my journey through the lands of enlightenment as I try to pick my way through the lands of devotional circumspection.

Yes, it can be challenging. But when done in a spirit of wonder and Spirit-led investigation can be a clear-eyed projection of just what the biblical faith might become. Mostly, I would like my faith to be as objective as possible to the discoveries being made without being waylaid in its journey by misleading forms of gnosticism (contemporary forms of mysticism comes to mind), unhelpful philosophies (I've lately been choosing Process Philosophy's influence upon Continental Philosophy), or dithering hermeneutics more interested in protecting the faith than projecting the faith. Now whether I understand how to reconcile all these elements or not is another subject for another day though this site here gives testimony of how this might be done as I try to sort through it. For many of my friends they do not wish to think as deeply or allow their faith to be disturbed so thoroughly under the categories of "doubt and uncertainty". For myself, this form of patient investigation and comparative study hopes to obtain a kernel of truth gleaned from the vast history of faith's journey through human history even as it is developing today in its complexity and burgeoning doctrines smashing against one another.

Moses the Lawgiver

Today's subject will be one of those times. Here we have the hallowed traditions of the lawgiver cum prophet Moses writing out God's 10 Commandments to the tribes of Israel - as opposed to very serious questions of whether this event actually occurred or not. Was Moses a real person? Was he visited by God and given a code of conduct to transcribe? Was the totality of this event true or not?

For some of us it must be more true for us to trust the bible than man's speculations. But as I've said on many occasions, the bible is not what we suppose it to be as an ancient collection of oral traditions and legends. Regardless of the historicity of its biblical characters or "actualized" events, in some way the bible is true and testifies to the self-revealing God who tells us what He has done in the past, is doing now in the present, and intends to do in the future. And importantly, how we might respond to His revelation.


If you've had any studies in biblical doctrines this can be a tricky thing to answer as whole doctrinal systems may topple down in our hearts should we admit even one new idea which might destroy the entirety of the structure we had learned, embraced, and believed. But this doesn't have to be the case.

Assuming that God is more real than He is not - which is an important assumption to make, but one I have made in the past, arguing the impossibility of being a true atheist at a philosophical or theological level (cf. Alvin Platinga's discussion on atheism somewhere in this website). As someone committed to the divine faith it behooves us to think rightly about our faith than to force upon it, or even God Himself, constructs which are not true.

Such is the problem of Moses. For myself, whether he is a historical personage or isn't is no matter. Or whether he did or didn't give to Israel God's laws is no matter. Somehow, someone or some group, through some process, came to an idea about God which later became canonized amongst an ancient tribe of peoples living in the lands of Canaan who were going through some kind of sorting out process which brought to them a concept of God which was importantly different from the gods of the peoples they observed around them.

As this body of conviction grew so did their legends, either rightly or wrongly. Which is where we then begin reading in the bible of the many kinds of interpretations Israel and her teachers debated about. This becomes especially noticeable between the "false prophets" and the "true prophets" in the lands of Israel. Each opposing group had an idea of God which impacted how they lived and worshipped. Over time these disagreements divided Israel into two nations.

Israel proper, the older nation with a much greater history of religious worship, eventually came under Assyrian rule and was scattered by defeat and exile (the "ten lost tribes"). Judah, the newer nation, lasted nearly as long as Israel once had, but was also similarly defeated and exiled under the rule of another conquering power, Babylon. When later recomposed as a shell of itself under Ezra and Nehemiah, Judah's holistic idea of canonical law and what it meant to live by it also broke down into a thousand pieces. This then presented to its people as many choices as there were priests. Those early priests who may have first followed the Ezra tradition later, in the absence of any further "divine revelation" during a time of "Intertestmental Silence" birthed as many Hebrew sects as we now have today in the Christian church (... well a few more, I would admit).


This especially came into sharp reveal when Jesus came across the stricter interpretations of the Hebrew religion which later birthed a corrected "Rabbinic form" of the Hebrew faith a hundred years later to offset the corruption which had pervaded it. By doing this Jesus declared to Jewish religious leaders of His day that they had misapprehended and misappropriated God's truth of love and grace for judgment and works. A truth which when denied disassembled into a more "religious code" of conduct and beliefs which said, "If you do this, and believe that, and do these things, than God will approve you." To this Jesus said this kind of faith was false, wholly worthless, and deeply misleading.

At which point Christianity arose on the very last remaining remnants and surviving strands of the Hebraic faith delved from the best traditions of Ezra many years earlier to birth a whole new religion. One bourne not only upon Jesus' teachings but upon His very atonement itself. Now does all this historical movement require that Moses be real or his legacy be true? Does it require that Moses actually transcribed God's 10 Commandment on Mt. Sinai? Or rather, perhaps in some way, God set down a codification of divine faith which was birthed within a small gathering of pious people granted a greater ken of fellowship by the Spirit with Himself and His desires for their lives? In the long view of things I think we must admit that however this ancient faith developed and came to be, it now is, and is as powerful now as when it first formed so many long years ago in yesteryear's deep legacies irrespective of our greater academic and cultural awareness of today. God is real, He is present, and He moves with us towards redeeming our lives and the world we live in.

Which also means we should reserve the right to restructure the Christian faith should it stray from the simplicity of its first principles even as Jesus did in His day - especially in light of a fundamental conviction that today's more popular forms of faith are misleading many through the false idea of who God is, what He expects, and who we must be in order to earn His allegiance. These kinds of faith-pictures do not help in apprehending the God of Salvation. From a religious sociological perspective it seems more truthful to say, "There is a God who is influencing His creation in such a way that our redemption - and that of creation - may grow and thrive in the lands of sin and evil in which we daily live."


Conclusion

As a theist - especially a metaphysical and ontologic theist - this makes more sense to me than the oft-times senselessness of preachers preaching a literalized bible out of time, out of sense, and out of mind. If I were to hold to these more traditional ideas than as a thinking Christian I would lose my faith rather than gain back to my faith the richness of its long developmental history gleaned from the sociobiological and evolutionary history of its human species as it adapts to its environment that it might survive. I think this is one reason we see so many leaving the church. Christianity has become outdated to the understanding of the world asking questions the faithful are forbidden to ask. I also think that should we begin answering those questions many would similarly return.

For some of the church it can hold to a mythical bible and be content. In fact, I must allow this, if not even encourage it for those who do not have the same strong faculties of faith others may have. Paul says this is the difference between those who drink milk or eat meat; or those who wish to mature in the faith in ministries and teachings beyond where they could quite naturally stop. But for others of us, we must pull back the withholding curtain of religion to evolve our own God-ward faith lest we become like the Jews of Jesus' day and lose our faith altogether through misunderstanding and false beliefs.

In final analysis, God is all around us. His revelation speaks daily - if not moment by moment - to us. We are not left without the divine witness either of God or His Spirit. In this our hearts and minds and souls rejoice in God's presence even as we are sadden by the oppression of sin or heartlessness of religion. We stand together as a faith legion, and together seek to grasp the simplicity of God's love in the sublimeness of its power. Here is where we stand and on no other bedrock as living testaments to the faiths of our forefathers, to Christ's redemption, and verily, to God's self-revelation. Amen.

R.E. Slater
September 21, 2017

* * * * * * * * * * * *




by Bart Ehrman

As you may have noticed, on a number of occasions I get asked questions that I simply can’t answer. I received one such question this week, about the history of the Hebrew language. Here is how the questioner phrased it:

What is our earliest evidence for Hebrew as a written language? I’ve been to apologetic seminars where they say it’s long been said by atheists that the Hebrew Bible can’t be trusted because the Hebrews didn’t have a written language until well after the stories in the OT would’ve taken place. The evidence that the Hebrews had a written language in close proximity to the Biblical stories is based on pottery evidence and things of that nature. I’m sure these are topics you are very familiar with and I’d appreciate your take.

It’s actually amazing how many topics I’m not familiar with at all! So, not knowing the answer, I asked a colleague of mine who is an expert in Hebrew philology, Joseph Lam (he teaches courses in my department in Hebrew and other Semitic languages, and on the religion, culture, and literature of the Ancient Near East, and in Hebrew Bible; his office is across the hall from mine). I simplified the question to get the heart of it. This is what I said in an email to him.

Joseph,
Someone has asked me the question below. Damn if I know! I don’t need a long exposition, just a basic answer will do (some kind of inscription?)
What is our earliest evidence for Hebrew as a written language?

Here is his very helpful response.

It depends on what you define as Hebrew. We have a number of inscriptions from Palestine in the late 2nd millennium/early 1st millennium BCE (which is when Hebrew mostly likely branched off as a distinct language from the broader “Canaanite” family of languages), but early Hebrew and Canaanite are difficult to distinguish from one another, especially in short inscriptions (sometimes a single word). For a long time the standard answer was the Gezer Calendar from the late 10th century (900’s) BCE, but I now think that text is better described as Phoenician or common Canaanite. Others would say the more recently discovered Khirbet Qeiyafa ostracon (11th/10th century), but there are various oddities to that text that make it difficult to classify. There are also a number of short inscriptions from Tel Rehov that have been dated archaeologically to the 10th/9th centuries. The upshot is, there are a number of candidates from the 10th/9th centuries, but certainly by the 8th century we have many more unambiguously “Hebrew” inscriptions.
For more detail, I would recommend to your readers the following online article (and the article to which it responds):
https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-artifacts/inscriptions/what%E2%80%99s-the-oldest-hebrew-inscription/

As a follow-up, I said/asked the following:

Fantastic. Just what I needed. The questioner was not a scholar, but an interested lay person, who was especially interested in the question of whether, if there was a Moses living in say the 13th c BCE, he would have been able to write. Do you have an opinion? (I myself don’t think there *was* a Moses, but still, assuming there was…)

Here is Joseph’s short and very interesting response.

If there was a Moses, raised in the Egyptian court, he probably would have learned to write in Egyptian! The texts of the Pentateuch, whoever wrote them, are NOT in 13th century language; they are in classical 1st millennium Hebrew. Whatever a hypothetical 13th century Moses wrote, whether in Egyptian or Canaanite or something else, that’s NOT what we have preserved in the Pentateuch.

Bart